Sunday, July 17, 2011

2011 Seattle to Portland

2 days, 222 miles

It has been a while since my last actual event. I just finished doing a new one. A few months ago, my friend Moon in Seattle decided to do this ride and asked me to join him. It is a 200 mile course between the two cities, and riders have the option of completing it in one day or in two. Moon is an experienced hiker and runner, but newer to cycling. He was planning to do it in two days, and I decided I would keep him company and do the same.

This is a big event (10,000 participants!) which has been taking place for 30 years. Since we also had friends in Portland that we wanted to visit, we decided to make a family trip out of it. The plan was for all three of us to fly to Seattle, travel to Portland (me by bicycle, Vaishali and Aasha by car), then fly back from there. Moon booked motel rooms near the course midpoint for us to spend the night of the first day.

Knowing that the course is mostly flat, I did not need an intense training schedule to prepare. In the three months I had between when I registered and the event, I simply had to maintain my existing level of conditioning. I only needed to make sure I was prepared for the expected hours in the saddle.

I devised a training route that I did several times. It took me from my home to the ocean and back. This was a total distance of nearly 80 miles. With 5600 feet of total elevation, it is more intense than either single day of STP would be.

We arrived in Seattle Friday morning. This gave me time to assemble my bicycle and for Moon and I to pick up the route map and prepare. Moon had a big dinner that night, but I stuck to my usual strategy of eating moderately in order to build a bigger appetite on the day of the event.

We woke up early Saturday morning and left Moon's house at 4:50am. It was a mostly downhill 4 miles to the starting point on the University of Washington campus. Since there were so many cyclists participating, they let groups of around 25 depart every 10 minutes. We were underway by 5:10am.

5:10am, 4 miles

The first 5 miles required concentration because we had to pay attention to the cyclists in front and beside us. After the pack thinned out, we could just dictate our own pace more easily. It was an exceptionally clear day and we were treated to a stunning view of Mount Ranier on the first half of the course.

7:10am, 28 miles

We pulled into the first rest stop which was quite crowded. They were well organized so we did not have to wait long to get food and use the restrooms. We did not linger too long so we managed to leave quickly.

The next section of the route contained a section described as "The Hill" in the route map. I was expecting something challenging, but found it pretty innocuous. I could see how it might be difficult for more inexperienced riders, but it was nothing compared to what I usually tackle. I had been going exactly Moon's pace so far, but on "The Hill", I felt the urge to sprint to the top. I did that, and waited for Moon to catch up. It gave me time to take off my arm warmers as the day had gotten warmer. Moon arrived quickly and we continued on.

The next stretch was mostly straight, and a bit monotonous. We kept a pretty good speed, and Moon drafted behind me most of the way. I was doing more work riding in front, and he was fighting less air riding behind me.

9:20am, 57 miles

The next food stop was in a large school field. Again, they were well organize d and we did not have to stand in much of a line. We saw that we were well ahead of our time estimate, so we texted our wives about our progress. We had guessed that we would meet around 3:00pm, so we wanted to tell them that we would be there much sooner.

The next section was flat, but not as straight as earlier. At one point we saw a disturbing scene. Just after some railroad tracks, there was a cyclist who had crashed and was lying in the road. Event staff were there and were asking everyone going through to slow down and be careful on the tracks. The rider was lying motionless, face-down in the middle of the street. I could not tell if he was unconscious or just lying still. Clearly he had been attended to because his helmet had been taken off. I hope he was alright.

The route entered a long stretch that was on a dedicated bike path. This made for relaxed riding because we could use the full lane without worrying about motor traffic. I might have been too complacent because I did not see a warp created by a tree root and almost fell off when I hit it. I was able to grab the handlebars tightly and steady myself (all reflexively in split second).

12:00pm, 91 miles

The final stop was smaller and just had snacks. That was all we wanted by this point anyhow. We called the wives to tell them that we were about one hour from the finish. We said "we are at mile 90", and they replied, "we are mile zero." They had their own plans for the morning and had gotten delayed. We told them we would synchronize our status when we finished.

The final stretch went by quickly. Knowing we had time to kill, we slowed our pace a little.

12:50pm, 104 miles

We reached the midpoint. We searched for food, but Moon decided he was not hungry, and I only had a cookie. We call the wives and found they were on their way but it will still be some time until they arrived. We saw that a good number of one-day riders were continuing on at this time. We could have finished the ride that day itself if we could keep the same pace. But Moon had already surpassed his single day mileage total, and anyway, we already had plans to stop.

Our motel was about 20 miles back in the direction we came from. We could either wait for them where we were, or start going that way on our own. We decided to move. We researched the route and found a way to go that avoided the main road.

3:00pm, 116 miles

When the car group came close, they called and we arranged a convenient rendezvous location. They got us and we drove to the motel. Ironically, they met us at the time we had originally planned on.

As we checked in, we saw several others with bicycles who were clearly doing the same ride. We cleaned up, unpacked, and went out for dinner. There was a Mexican restaurant right next to the motel, so we went there and had a good (huge, in my case) dinner.

After dinner, Prabha, Vaishali, and Aasha went to Olympia to see the state capital, but Moon and I went back to our rooms to go to sleep. We planned another early rise the next morning.

5:15am, 116 miles

We left the motel at 4:40. Prabha drove us back to the midpoint which was again 20 miles south. By the time we actually started, it was close to the same time we had gotten underway on day one. The route went through some small towns, and we saw many other riders start from their lodgings and campsites. At one point, we were delayed a few minutes by a train.

This section of the route had small rolling hills and was more scenic than the previous day. We were again lucky to have a clear day and got a clear view of Mount St. Helens on this part of the route.

This morning was noticeably colder than the previous. I was mostly prepared for it, except I only had half-finger gloves. My exposed fingertips got very cold in the morning air. I kept losing circulation in my right hand and had to keep shaking it.

7:00am, 144 miles

We halted at an unofficial stop for a bathroom break and a quick snack. I cooled off even more by stopping, but I was thankful for a small hill that appeared afterward. I sprinted to the top to generate body heat.

8:20am, 162 miles

The day was warming up by the time we reached the official food stop. We did not break long, probably because we took a break earlier. Although the course was still thick with riders, there were fewer than yesterday, when all the one-day riders were mixed in with us.

We finally reached the Columbia River and crossed on Lewis and Clark Bridge, entering Oregon.

Again we witnessed the scene of another crash. One cyclist was loaded into an ambulance while another was getting his arm bandaged. Although it was unfortunate to see, it looked much better that the one we saw yesterday. On a ride with 10,000 participants, it is inevitable that there will be some injuries.

11:00am, 188 miles

We reached the lunch stop and like yesterday, it was at a school. Unlike yesterday, it was not well organized. There was only a single line, so it took half an hour to get our food and eat it. We called the road team to synchronize, and this time they seem to have it timed correctly.

The clear skies gave us a view of the third major mountain peak of the ride -- Mount Hood. Soon after, we crossed the Willamette River. The final few miles were through the city to the finish line downtown. Again here, we got funneled into a group of other cyclists and had to deal with signal lights.

1:40pm, 222 miles

We rolled to the finish and celebrated. There was a party atmosphere. We called the road crew and they arrived fairly soon. We all went a mutual friends' house and cleaned up and had lunch. Moon and Prabha left to drive back to Seattle since they had work the next day. We stayed in town a couple more days to spend more time with our friends and to visit some others.

It was an enjoyable trip. The ride itself, while not much of a physical challenge for me, was fun. It is always nice to do a ride with a friend. And a totally new route is always a treat. I would consider doing it again if I can join friends. I feel like my conditioning has gotten better, so I may try to do some more challenging centuries this year.

Click on the image to see the video compilation from the ride.

See the full set of pictures from the ride here, or click on any of the embedded photos.


UW said...

This guy "Moon" really slowed you down... sounds like a real loser!!
Great writeup and pictures Murali.
We definitely need a better support crew next time so that we dont have to pedal 20 unnecessary miles.
Thanks for keeping me company!

KRP said...

Murali - great write-up and photos. Thanks for sharing. I am going to send this link to my parents and in-laws so they can get their much desired blow-by-blow-how-it-happened-story.

:) -Prabha